The Cause of Predestination according to Thomism by Fr. Garrigou Lagrange


Fr. Garrigou-Langrange was an eminent French Dominican Theologian who taught at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum in Rome between 1909-1960. Among his famous students were Pope St. John Paul II, who wrote his doctoral thesis under the direction of Fr. Garrigou Lagrange.

Note:  The below article, The Cause of Predestination, is from the *synthesis* section of the Book Predestination by Fr. R. Garrigou-Langrange, O.P. 1939.  pp. 194-205

What is the cause of the predestination and of the election whereby God chose certain persons in preference to others for the purpose of bringing them to eternal life?

The liberty of the divine election in the Old Testament comes to our mind.  Seth was elected, and not Cain; then Noe, also Sem in preference to Ismael, and finally Jacob (Isreal) was chosen.  How does the case stand now as regards each of the elect?

We saw from the definitions of the Church in the councils of Cartage (418) and Orange (529), directed against the Pelagians and Semipelagaisn, the cause of predestination cannot be the naturally good works of certain persons which are foreseen by God, or the naturally good beginning of the will in performing a salutary act (initium salutis), or the perseverance in good works until death without a special grace.

According to the same definitions of the councils of Orange and Trent, which refer to the special grace of final perseverance, it is also beyond doubt that the cause of predestination to glory cannot be because God foresees that certain persons without a special grace would retain their supernatural merits until death:  “If anyone saith that one justified is able to persevered without the special help of God in the justice received or that with this help is not able; let him be anathema.”  St. Thomas, moreover, proves inadmissible the opinion of those who say that God chose these particular persons in preference to others because He foreknew that they would make good use of the grace received (at least at the moment of death), just as the king gives a fine horse to a rider because he foresees the good use he will make of it.  St. Thomas points out that this opinion cannot be admitted; for we cannot eliminate from our salutary acts a part of the good as not coming from the primary cause that is the source of all good; therefore, the good use of grace in the elect is itself an effect of predestination, and cannot, therefore, be its cause of motive.  Furthermore, St. Thomas even says, “Whatsoever is in man disposing him towards salvation, is all included under the effect of predestination,” and therefore this includes even the free determination of his salutary acts.

Is this reply of St. Thomas a cogent reply to theMolinist opinion that maintains that the cause of our predestination to glory to be because God foresaw our merits?  We leave this for our readers to judge.

Let us recall that, according to the principle of predilection, the cause of predestination and election whereby God chose certain persons in preference to others so as to bring them to eternal life, it is not the fact of their foreseen merits but pure mercy, as all the Thomists, Augustinians, Scotists, Bellarmine, too, and Suarez say, who on this point are in agreement with St. Augustine and St. Thomas.

The foundation of the principle of predilection is not only an established fact of the natural order but is also a revealed truth.  The Old and New Testaments make use of most varying expressions to tell us that without exception all good comes from God, from God’s love: that there is no good which God by His love has not efficaciously willed: that everything which God wills effectively comes to pass: that no evil, either physical or moral, happens and happens in this particular place rather than that without God’s permission.  These are the most universal of principles, and they dominate the whole question.  Reference was made to them at the opening of the Council of Thuzey (860) in the following terms: “Whatsoever the Lord pleased He hath done, in heaven and in earth, the final perseverance of Peter, for instance, in preference to that of Judas.  For nothing is done in heaven or in earth, except what it has pleased Him to do if it is a good or what He has justly permitted to happen if it is an evil.”

We find this fundamental truth expressed in very many texts both of the Old and New Testaments.  Thus we have:  “Lord, Thou has wrought all our works for us”; “Thou art Lord of all and there is none that can resist Thy majesty”; “O Lord, king of gods, and of all power…turn his (king’s) heart to the hatred of our enemy”.  “And God changed the king’s spirit into mildness”; “As the division of waters, so the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: whithersoever He will He shall turn it”; “as the potters clay is in his hand…so man is in the hand of Him that made him”; “I will cause you to walk in my commandments”; “For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish.” Several of these texts and similar ones are quoted by the Council of Orange to show that every good comes from God and that nothing good happens without His having efficaciously willed it.

This foundation for the principle of predilection, to which the Council of Thuzey refers, is not only often expressed in Scripture, but the very principle itself is formulated in equivalent words by St. Paul, when he says “For what distinguisheth thee?  Or what hast though that though has not received?”  “Not that we are sufficient to think that anything of ourselves, as of ourselves:  but our sufficiency is from God.”  St. Paul even finds that the principle of predilection is expressed in the Book of Exodus, for he writes: “what shall we say then?  Is there injustice with God?  God forbid!  For He saith to Moses: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.  And I will show mercy, to whom I will show mercy.  So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”  We read, too, in the book of Psalms:  “He saved me because he was well pleased with me”; “The salvation of the just is from the Lord”; “The mercies of the Lord that we are not consumed.”  Temporal salvation is the image of eternal salvation.  We read, too, in the Book of Tobias these admirable words announcing what will be explicitly made known to us in the fulness of revelation:  “He hath chastised us for our iniquities, and He shall save  us for His own mercy.”

Our Lord Himself spoke in the same sense: “I confess to Thee, O Father…becasue Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them to little ones.  Yea, Father: for so hath it seemed good in Thy sight.” According to this text, the little ones received more light and help because such was God’s good pleasure, who loved them more. In like manner, our Lord said to his disciples: “Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom.” Of the elect our Lord said again that no one can snatch them from His Father’s hand, which means, without reference to the foreseen merits of the elect, the Father’s special love for them and the infallibly efficacious help which He will grant to them, so as to have them merit until death and save them. “None of them is lost but the son of perdition.”

Finally, in St. Paul’s epistles the notions of election and predestination are more clearly defined, and this throws new light on the motive of predestination, as in the following text: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ.  As He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in His sight in charity.  Who hath predestinated us unto the adopted of children through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the purpose of HIs will, unto the praise of the glory of His grace….In whom we also are called by lot, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things according to the counsel of His will.”

This text, as many theologians, like Bellarmine and Suarez, have remarked along with the Thomists, contains three principal assertions: (1) God chose us, not because He foresaw that, if we were placed in certain circumstances, with a certain sufficient grace, we would become holy rather than others who were equally helped; but He chose us that we may be holy. (2) God thus chose us and consequently predestined us, according to the purpose or decree of His will, according to His good pleasure, which is again pointed out in verse eleven. That denotes the order of intention, in which the end precedes the means. (3) Unto the praise and glory of His grace, so as to bring into prominence in the order of execution, not the power of the created free will but the glory of His divine grace, in accordance with the following text: “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”

Moreover, it cannot be merely predestination to grace that is implied in these texts, since this latter is common both to the elect and to the reprobates. It is a question of true predestination that includes the decree to grant not only the grace of justification, but the special gift of final perseverance, which, strictly speaking, cannot be merited by us.  On this point the Council of Trent, quoting St. Paul, says: “God is able to establish him who standeth that he stand perseveringly, and to restore him who falleth.” it also recalls to mind these words of the Apostle: “Wherefore, my dearly beloved…with fear and trembling work out your salvation.  For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will.”

Finally, almost all theologians who admitted the absolute gratuity of predestination to salvation appealed in support of this doctrine to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in which, speaking of the predestination of the Gentiles and the reprobation of the Jews, he formulates general principles that are evidently applicable, as Father LaGrange remarks, to individuals, in accordance with the principle that “God works in us [in each of us] both to will and to accomplish, according to HIs good will.”  Moreover, St. Paul even says: “That He might show the riches of HIs glory on the vessels of mercy which He hath prepared unto glory.  Whom also He hath called, not only of the Jews but also of the Gentiles.” From this we see that he has in mind not only nations but also individuals who will become, as he expressed it, vessels of glory or of ignominy. In like manner, when he says: “Whom He predestined, them He also called … justified …  and glorified,” this refers to the individuals.

We saw that in the words of the preceding verse, “Whom he foreknew and predestined to be made conformable to the image of His Son,” the expression “whom He foreknew” refers to those whom He previously looked upon with benevolence, which is applicable even to children who died so soon after baptism so as not to have had time for meriting. The expression “whom He foreknew” does not mean therefore “whose merits He foreknew.”

What then are the general principles formulated here by St. paul on the question of predestination?  He defined it as “purpose of God,” “Purpose of God according to election,” “according to the election of grace,” which means a purpose or resolution according to a gratuitous election, for he adds: “And if by grace, it is not now by works, otherwise grace is no more grace.”

St. Paul explains, too, in this epistle the properties and effects of predestination, for he says: “All things word together unto good, to such as according to His purpose, are called to be saints.” And immediately afterward he enumerates the three effects of predestination: vocation, justification, and glorification, which, strictly speaking, apply to individuals.  Finally, he points out its infallible efficacy, which he attributes not to the effort made by our will, but to God’s omnipotence, saying: “If God be for us who is against us?” As for the cause of predestination, he does not ascribe this to the foreknowledge of our merits, but to God’s special mercy, saying with Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.  And I will show mercy, to whom I will show mercy.”  Hence it follows that “it is not of him that willeth, nor him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”

Finally, he proves this last assertion by an irrefutable principle which is the principle of predilection in a new form, for he writes: “Who hast first given to Him, and recompense shall be made Him.  For of Him and by Him and in Him, are all things.” It is always to this supreme principle that he appeals, as when he asks: “For who distinguisheth thee?  Or what hast thou that thou has not received?”

What St. Paul means in all these texts, finds its confirmation in the answer to the objections which he puts to himself, and which were taken up later on by the Pelagians and Semipelagians: “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor?  What if God, willing to show His wrath, His avenging justice, and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction, that He might show the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He hath prepared unto glory, where is the injustice?”

St. Augustine and St. Thomas saw in all these texts of St. Paul the gratuity of predestination to eternal life.  In other words, they perceived the motive of this to be a special mercy.  St. Augustine often said that if God grants final perseverance to this particular person, it is by reason of His mercy; if He does not grant it to that other person, it is because of just punishment of sins, in the generality of cases repeated, and which have estranged the soul from God.  St. Thomas and St. Prosper declared the same in these words retained by the cCouncil of Quierzy: “That certain persons are saved, is the gift of Him who saves; but that certain persons are lost, it is the fault of those who are lost.”

This explains the attitude of theologians such as Tanquerey who, after giving us an analysis of what St. Paul said on predestination, writes as follows: “Moreover, all these utterances are nothing else but the very thesis of the Thomists; for they presuppose that God of His good pleasure elects us to glory, and that all good things are the result of this election, even our merits.”

In addition to these reasons which are taken from Holy Scripture and which constitute the foundation of St. Thomas’ doctrine on the cause of predestination, we have the argument of theological reasoning which the holy Doctor gives as follows: “Predestination is a part of providence.  Now providence, as also prudence, is the plan existing in the intellect directing the ordering of some things towards an end. But nothing is directed towards an end unless the will for that end already exists. Whence the predestination of some to eternal salvation presupposes, in the order of reason, that God wills their salvation; and to this belong both election and love.”

In other words, whoever acts wisely, wills the end before the means.  Now God acts with sovereign wisdom, and grace is the means with reference to Glory or salvation.  Therefore God first wills glory to His elect, and then the grace so as to have them attain it. St. Thomas, as we see, was in advance of Scotus in the presentation of this theological argument, and on this point Bellarmine and Suarez are in agreement with him.

This is one of the points that illustrate most clearly how St. Thomas and the greatest theologians along with him fear neither logic nor mystery.  It is logic itself that leads them to the transcendence of the mystery, which is an object of contemplation far above reasoning.

Thus the motive of predestination becomes clear and, at the same time, that of negative reprobation as explained by St. Thomas in the following words: “The reason for the predestination of some, and reprobation of others, must be sought for in the Goodness of God.  Thus He is said to have made all things through His goodness, so that the divine goodness might be represented in things. Now it is necessary that God’s goodness, which in itself is one and undivided, should be manifested in many ways in His creation; because creatures in themselves cannot attain to the simplicity of God. Thus it is that for the completion of the universe, there are required different grades of being; some of which hold a high and some a low place in the universe. That his multiformity of grades may be preserved in things, God allows some evils, lest many good things should never happen. Let us consider the whole of the human race, as we consider the whole universe. God wills to manifestHis goodness in men; in respect to those whom He predestines, by means of His mercy, in sparing them; and in respect of others, who He reprobates, by means of his justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others. To this the Apostle refers saying (Rom. 9:22-23): ‘What if God, willing to show His wrath, that is, the vengeance of His justice, and to make His power known, endured, that is, permitted with much patience vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction; that He might show the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He hath prepared unto glory.’ And elsewhere the same Apostle wrote (II Tim. 2:20): ‘But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and earth; and some, indeed, unto honor, but some unto dishonor.’ Yet why He chooses some for glory, and reprobates others has no reason except the divine will.  Whence Augustine says (Tract. XXVI in Joan.): ‘Why He draws one, and another He draws not, seek not to judge if thou dost not wish to err.’ Thus, too, in the things of nature, a reason can be assigned, since primary matter is altogether uniform, why one part of it was fashioned by God from the beginning under the form of fire, another under the form of earth, that there might be a diversity of species in things of nature.Yet why this particular part of matter is under this particular form, and that under another, depends upon the simple will of God; as from the simple will of the artificer it depends that this stone is in this part of the wall and that in another; although the plan requires that some stones should be in this place and some in that place. Neither on this account can there be said to be injustice in God, if He prepares unequal lots for not unequal things. This would be altogether contrary to the notion of justice, if the effect of predestination were granted as a debt, and not gratuitously. In things which are given gratuitously a person can give more or less, just as he pleases provided he deprives nobody of his due, without any infringement of justice. This is what the master of the house said: ‘Take what is thine and go thy way. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will?'” (Matt 20:14-15)

What is due to each one, what God refuses to nobody, is sufficient grace for salvation, which makes it really possible to keep the commandments, for God never commands what is impossible. As for efficacious grace, especially the grace of final perseverance, this He grants by reason of His mercy. But of the adults, only those are deprived of it who through their own fault refuse to accept it. The doctors of the Church often pointed this out in the comparison they drew between the death of the good thief and that of Judas who resisted the final appeal of grace.

The general motive for predestination, is therefore, the manifestation of God’s goodness that assumes the form of mercy in pardoning; and the motive for the predestination of this particular person rather than a certain other, is God’s good pleasure. If it be so, how shall we formulate in exact terms the motive for either positive or negative reprobation?


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